There are 14 teams still waiting for that first bitter taste of defeat this season. Luke and I checked in on five of them yesterday. We'll cover five more today, which means we also need to take a moment to dismiss the other four.
Oklahoma State is not going to survive the Big 12. An upset of either Baylor or TCU seems plausible enough, but they're not winning both of those games. Iowa? No. They're Iowa. The Hawkeyes aren't even going to make it to 12-0 before losing to Ohio State. Temple has been a great story, but not only would they have to get past both Memphis and Houston, they've also got a date with Notre Dame on Halloween. They're not going to make it. Heck, they may not even make it out of this weekend; East Carolina is favored by 3 at home.
And then there's TCU, who doesn't play this week, so we can't pick their game. (Science!) Of the teams we're not picking games for this week, TCU clearly has the best chance of actually running the table. They've got a gauntlet to run in November, with games against both Oklahoma schools and Baylor. The first two of those games are utterly winnable for the Frogs; Baylor's going to be a shootout, and may even make 61-58 look like a staid defensive struggle. It's a toss-up. If TCU gets past Baylor, they'd be a good bet to win the national title; their offense appears to be better suited to compete with teams that actually play defense than Baylor's does, and TCU's flaws on defense only appear to be exploitable by Big 12 offenses.
And now, we examine the five remaining unbeatens and see what they're going to do this week. Our picks against the spread are, as always, For Entertainment Purposes Only.
|Friday, 7 p.m. Chapman Stadium, Tulsa OK|
JM: Memphis is floating right now, man. They knocked off the hated rival Rebels, they're unbeaten, they're a top-20 team, and everyone wants to hire Justin Fuente -- even some teams who already have coaches. Paxton Lynch is, right now, quite possibly the only potential Heisman candidate with enough hype-generation appeal to even challenge Leonard Fournette. This week, they travel to Tulsa, where the Golden Hurricane continue their rapid rebuild under new head coach Phillip Montgomery, Baylor's former offensive guru. Tulsa can score points, as they proved against Oklahoma. They also can't stop anyone, which is why I'm taking Memphis to cover.
But can Memphis finish the deal? They have a three-week stretch early in November where we'll find out. They host Navy, then visit Houston and Temple. And this is crazy to contemplate, but by the time that Houston date rolls around all three teams could be in the top 15 (although that does require Temple to beat Notre Dame and get back into the conversation). And to really ice the cake, assuming Memphis gets to 12-0 they'll have to play Temple again. For right now, we'll assume all that, because there's really no reason not to. Will Memphis make the playoff? Maybe. Can they win a semifinal? Probably not. If they don't make the playoff, will they win their bowl game? That'll depend on the matchup, because a 12-0 Memphis is definitely New Year's bound.
LT: The Tigers definitely surprised me last week, proving they actually have a decent defense to go with that offense. Meanwhile, Tulsa lost 30-17 in its lowest scoring game of the season at East Carolina. That doesn't bode well for the Golden Hurricane, even though there is some danger here of a letdown for Memphis. Then again, Ole Miss isn't exactly one of those punishing physical teams that will leave you battered and bruised the next week. Tigers cover.
Memphis is a great story, but I'm sorry, I just can't see them even making it as far as 12-0. I have to pick someone to end the dream, and Houston seems like the right choice in that Nov. 14 game.
|Saturday, 11 a.m. Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando FL|
JM: Remember when Central Florida won a Fiesta Bowl? Good times, good times. Unfortunately for the Knights, they're really, really bad now. Houston is the exact opposite of really, really bad, and Houston is going to incinerate them. Cougars cover.
As for Houston's first loss, I'm obviously projecting them to lose to Memphis on November 14. But if they don't, they're in the same boat as Memphis: could make the playoff, probably won't win a semifinal, bowl game's a toss-up. The biggest difference is that Houston does not have a regular-season game against Temple, which makes their road just a teensy bit easier than Memphis has to traverse.
LT: Yes, Central Florida is awful and no, it has not won a football game this season. However, UCF also has only lost 2 games by 21 points or more and one of those was at Stanford. Let's just ignore that the other one was a home game vs. UConn. OK, good. The Cougars are clearly going to win this game and it could get very ugly if they force a few turnovers. But I think Houston's powerful rushing attack will meet just enough resistance for UCF to cover in this one.
I already projected Houston to beat Memphis, which will won't happen because the Cougars are the better team. They aren't. But Houston will have the home crowd advantage, plus Memphis will be facing the pressure of being the most targeted team in the AAC as its last remaining unbeaten. What about the Cougars, you ask? Well, they've got an odd home game against Vanderbilt on Halloween, and I think the Commodores are going to pull off the upset.
|Saturday, 2:00 p.m. Gillette Stadium, Foxboro MA|
JM: The Rockets keep blasting. Toledo started slow against Eastern Michigan, but ended up winning 63-20. Massachusetts is almost as bad as the Eagles, so covering a two-touchdown plus anything spread shouldn't be a problem for the Rockets. They'll cover.
In another universe, two weeks from now would be the ultimate test for Toledo, as they host Northern Illinois. But the Huskies have lost their own magic, and Toledo's got extra time to prepare. (Interestingly, Toledo gets the national spotlight all to themselves through most of November: three straight Tuesday night games as #MACtion enters full bloom.) Get past Northern Illinois, and arch-rival Bowling Green is all that stands in the way. Twice, probably. Then things get interesting. We're getting very close to being forced to assume that the American champion gets a New Year's bid. That might leave the Rockets out in the cold. Would a 13-0 Toledo still get a New Year's bid even if Memphis or Houston get one? They'd have to roll into the top 10 for that, but it's absolutely possible. Would they win such a contest? Iffy. If they don't get a bid, they'll win whatever regular bowl they end up consigned to, though.
LT: Yeah, this line definitely seems like it should be a lot higher, considering Toledo is very good and UMass is not, despite a decent passing attack capable of putting up points. It just looks like a bad matchup for the Minutemen, so this one's a no-brainer. Rockets cover.
Toledo's a decent little team and it's not inconceivable they go 13-0, in which case I'd hope they get a New Year's Day bid. However, as I've probably alluded to before, I really like the work Dino Babers did at Eastern Illinois and continues to do at Bowling Green. The Falcons came as close as anyone to beating Memphis, even holding a 27-17 lead before letting it slip away in a 44-41 loss. Throw in the fact that Bowling Green gets Toledo at home in one of those stupid Tuesday games, and it just screams upset to me.
|Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Spartan Stadium, East Lansing MI|
JM: This line is not borne out by Michigan State's play thus far this season. We've seen it already: the Spartans either go up big and let a clearly inferior team get back in the game, or they fall behind and have to fight back for a narrow victory. Indiana's not a great football team, but they're also not Purdue. The Spartans win, but don't quite cover.
As for their ultimate demise: hello, Ohio State. Maybe Sparty has another miracle in them, but Ohio State should win a tight contest there. If not, watch out. Michigan State could go all the way.
LT: What Jon said makes a lot of sense. Michigan State hasn't really blown out teams, and Indiana is good enough to stay close. However, last week the Hoosiers got outscored 22-0 in the fourth quarter to lose 55-52 at home to Rutgers. Read that sentence again. I know college kids are resilient and all, but that seems like something that will carry over. Spartans cover.
Ohio State is the obvious choice and really the only choice to end Michigan State's bid for an undefeated season. Plus, yesterday I picked the Buckeyes to lose their first game at Michigan, one week after hosting Michigan State on Nov. 21. Gotta be consistent.
|Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta GA|
JM: Georgia Tech was in the top 10 earlier this season. Remember that? Their problem: no defense, which is not a problem you want to have against Florida State. The Seminoles aren't world-beaters when they don't have the ball either, but they're at least competent. The line on this game is pretty close to accurate. Florida State has not made a habit of putting teams away this year. They'll still cover, though.
Will they go undefeated? No. Even if the Noles escape at Clemson on November 7, they still have to travel to Gainesville on November 28 to take on Florida. Florida State hasn't really shown anything to suggest we should bet on them winning both of those games. Should they get past Clemson and lose to Florida, even winning the ACC isn't getting them in the playoff. Unlike Clemson, however, winning both might be enough to push a one-loss SEC champion off the platform.
LT: The other issue for the Yellow Jackets is their run-based offense really isn't built to come-from-behind, which you have to do a lot when your defense can't stop anyone. Dalvin Cook has a pretty strong case as the nation's second-best running back, and Dabo Swinney even argued Cook is better than Fournette. I'm not so sure about that, but either way, he's going to run over the Yellow Jackets defense. Seminoles cover.
All that other stuff is great, but let's be real, this Florida State team isn't winning at Clemson. The Seminoles' unbeaten season ends Nov. 7.